John Easdale (second from left) leads the re-energized lineup of Jersey-bred modern rock favorites DRAMARAMA back to the Shore circuit on August 1st. (photo by Amy Martin Friedman)
Published in The Coaster (Asbury Park, NJ) and The Link (Long Branch, NJ), July 25, 2019
As John Easdale recalled it a few years back, “they showed up at my front door one day, when I’m not wearing a shirt…and they worked to make it happen.”
“They” were the folks from a new VH-1 TV series entitled Bands Reunited — and the thing they were looking to make happen, even as Easdale stood there looking more like something out of an episode of COPS — was the reunion, by popular demand, of a little project known as Dramarama.
“It was remarkably flattering that they would even think of us that way,” said the singer, songwriter and forever frontman of the bi-coastally based band that made its reputation in the “modern rock” glory days of The Green Parrot rock club and WHTG-FM — and which returns Shoreside once more next Thursday, August the First.
”It felt like I won some sort of prize; the Publishers Clearing House.”
As it turned out, the cable series spotlight was exactly the thing that the members of Dramarama needed to heal from an early 1990s break-up; to cement their standing as a favorite of fanbases on both the Atlantic and Pacific (plus, for whatever reason, a fairly fervent following in France) — and to enter the new century as an institution that materializes regularly, like some kind of alterna-rock Avengers, whenever and wherever the situation demands the band’s signature mix of supercharged powerpop and sardonic social commentary.
Born and bred on the mean streets of Wayne, NJ; relocated to Southern California (when legendary KROQ deejay Rodney Bingenheimer’s stamp of approval granted them godhood within the greater LA region), the five-man Dramarama returns to Asbury Park’s Wonder Bar with three charter members intact (Easdale, plus guitarists Mark Englert and Peter Wood), an all-new album in the pipeline (their first since 2005’s Everybody Dies) — and a hard-earned cred that’s seen them record and perform with former Rolling Stone Mick Taylor, Blondie drummer Clem Burke, and iconic session man Jim Keltner (they also count Ellen De Generes among their biggest fans, even appearing on her show as her “birthday present” several years back).
With doors opening at 7:30 pm, it’s a Very Special Episode in the club’s summertime-Thursday series of After Party events, keyed to the open-air Jams on the Sand concerts on the beachtop bandstand outside the nearby Anchor’s Bend bar. It’s also the first local appearance of 2019 for the perennial Shore faves, who were forced to cancel a scheduled January appearance when Easdale was diagnosed with melanoma just days before the band’s customary contribution to the annual Light of Day festival.
Speaking from his home in Whittier, CA (historic spawning/stomping grounds of Richard M. Nixon), the singer assures his public that the health scare “was just that, a scare…they took a chunk out of my arm, and now everything is fine.”
“In the months since then, I’ve realized that I didn’t need to react as much as I did,” Easdale insists. “I went and looked at WebMD, and read about how it’s the deadliest form of skin cancer, and how it killed Danny Federici…I was just isolating myself within my fear at the time.”
“ I feel bad about missing that show,” says the artist whose extracurricular solo projects have also taken him to such area stages as the Stone Pony, the old Donovan’s Reef in Sea Bright, and Joey Harrison’s Surf Club in Ortley Beach. “We’ve been doing Light of Day each year, along with another show in late summer, and we’re definitely gonna try and make it back next time out.”
For next Thursday’s show, Easdale, Englert and Wood (the only original member of the group to have moved back to his native NJ) will be joined by their newest bandmates, the rhythm section of Mike Davis (bass) and Tony Snow (drums). The pair of in-demand LA-based musicians have put their own eclectic stamp upon the old family recipe, picking up the narrative from a passel of predecessors that included such players as the aforementioned Burke, and original bassist Chris Carter (the onetime record store owner who’s since carved out a busy career as a band manager, film producer, and host of the Sirius XM radio program Breakfast with The Beatles).
Attendees can rightfully expect a retrospective of ‘Rama rockers that trace back to the band’s earliest self-released singles and EPs of the early 1980s, as well as such big-time breakouts as “Last Cigarette” and the frantic anthem of obsession “Anything, Anything” — a record that sounded like everyone in the band was racing each other to the runout groove, and that would go on to serve as the theme to disc jockey Rich Russo’s syndicated radio show of the same name.
Then there’s the WHTG staple “Work For Food,” a character sketch of a homeless soul (apparently a former musician who once “sang a song on Uncle Floyd”) scratching out some semblance of existence in an increasingly weird world — and who also has much in common with the various victims of modern life that populate Easdale’s guitar-driven mini-epics.
“He is the same guy, basically,” the songwriter says of his “Work For Food” narrator. “But while the songs all come from me, not everything I do is autobiographical…in this case the prophecy didn’t come true for me, thank God!”
Expect also a generous preview of material from the (as yet untitled) new album, a project that Easdale hopes to be able to release “by September or October.” Included in that set will be the 2018 recording “Swamp Song” — the first new Dramarama music in more than a dozen years, and a darkly tinged seether (“Low down in a high rise, I’m like a vampire at sunrise”) which finds the band that once promised you “Anything, Anything” imploring the listener to “give me SOMEthing.” Local audiences may know that the record was selected for the coveted Song of the Week status by Brookdale’s 90.5 The Night radio in November of last year.
“We’ve made friends with a lot of people who’ve played our records over the years,” says Easdale in reference to broadcast boosters like Matt Pinfield, who put Dramarama’s discs into rotation at the Rutgers radio station before going on to WHTG and later MTV. “What somebody like Rodney has done, how he’s literally made people’s careers, really gives you the confidence that you’ve made the right choice.”
Ditto places like Asbury Park, a place that Easdale (whose father continues to reside in Toms River, and who has claimed to be “welcome on couches and in spare bedrooms throughout the state”) sees as “a city of tradition, with a well-deserved reputation as a real music town, kind of like Austin and Nashville.”
“They’ve put a little money and a lot of energy into the Wonder Bar, and we love it,” he adds. “It’s just the right size, and Debbie (De Lisa) is a dear friend.”
Informed that the area’s onetime Modern Rock radio station has gone contemporary country, Easdale observes that “It’s nice to have a kind of home away from home like the Wonder Bar, to have a point of reference like that in your life…but we accept that things change.”
“Rock and roll doesn’t hold the same position and power as it once did…it’s like being a horse guy in an automobile world, and as far as country goes, the modern stuff is not my cup o’ meat,” adds the frontman who adopted the cowboy hat as his signature headgear several seasons back (“I prefer it to a weave or a toupee”).
“But then here we are, 37 years down the road…and the idea that we’re still Dramarama, still doing this thing, is just a little bit short of miraculous!”